Err in the direction of kindness

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates

The surly critic

Short stories are not parables or wise sayings, and cannot be fragments; we ask them for the pleasures of closure.

Harold Bloom — How to Read and Why


The familiarity of odd meters

“It’s a simple 7/8″. It was all it took to make me feel like a complete idiot.

I had been happily banging on my drumkit for a while by then, but had never had the experience of playing with musicians I didn’t know from anywhere. All the other projects started for reasons that hadn’t immediately to do with the technicalities of the music being played, and in not one of them did such indications ever come up. There had never been discussions about the instruments themselves, either. No “tone” and “texture” discussion of a particular model of drumkit, no “brilliance” of this or that brand of cymbals. None of that. It mostly boiled down to “It’s shiny. It’s loud. I like. Can I bang it now?”.

This was different. I had been brought in at the last minute to replace the usual drummer (spontaneous self-combustion? I’ll never know). There were expectations; a song was to be rehearsed and played, there was no time to hang around having drinks and discuss the music each one likes, no time to wait for the stars to align properly for us all to play it. There were notes and breaks and bridges. And a 7/8 meter which, to someone whose counting skills were limited to what everyone knows about drum playing, appeared to be a monumental, unsurmountable hurdle. Despite not remembering the song at all, I remember the sensation of panic, as if it were yesterday.

Enough (Para mim, chega)

Quick and unrevised translation by myself, feel free to suggest improvements.

Enough with the resignation and complacency. Enough with the silence, obedience and frustration. I can’t take any more of this simulation of democracy, which only serves to perpetuate the moral incompetence, the civic void and the extinction of humanism. I can’t keep on watching ambition, power for its own sake and the bowing to mercantilism, dictate the future of my children, their children and their children’s children. The insensitivity is so monstrous, that they cannot even see that their children too, will pay for their blind persistence in failing at what’s wrong and repeating the unrepeatable.

I have had enough of fake patriotism and alleged sacrifices in the name of a better future, which only exists in spreadsheets, using formulas that have always failed, created by dim-lit minds, in the name of the same obscure principles that have thrown us into the hole we’re in, always digging on one spot to cover another.

We have entrusted Portugal for too long to incompetent, lazy hands, often sullied and guided by selfish agendas. The downside of being a people who doesn’t want to get involved in politics is that we left that to them and they don’t want to leave anything for us.

Enough with the believing that they’re not doing it for questionable reasons, that they know what they’re doing, that only they can do it. Portugal is mine, yours and of all those to come, and this is not the Portugal I wish upon anybody.

We have to start over, somewhere, and I suggest that we start by restoring our dignity. You will have to accept that you don’t know how to repair the mess you’ve caused, and move aside. We are a quiet people, whose heart usually beats quietly, but when it doesn’t, everything shakes. I believe that we will know which are the right options to restore this country to its proper place, but you will need to step down from your thrones and come visit reality. If not, get out of the way and let us make what we’ve been wishing for ourselves, for more than a thousand years: a country that’s dignified, truly democratic, fair, productive, and which embraces an infinite source of wealth: the sea.

How is it done? I don’t know. Not alone, I don’t. I know that trying to solve problems with the same reasoning that created them is like trying to cure a bullet wound with another gunshot. I know that many think better than one. I know that not all of us are cut out to change the world, but all can be a part of changing it. I know that if we keep quiet, silent, repeating the same mistakes, and hoping that some solution falls on our laps, we’ll just keep on hiding the shine that this country might still have left. I know how to ask questions and I know how to look for answers. And that’s exactly what I will do and do and do again, until I find them.

João Geada — Portuguese, 46. Designer, adman and anguished father of 5

The innocent have nothing to fear

“Cheery was aware that Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’, believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’.”

Terry Pratchett — Snuff

Home. Or not.

The New York Times’ Doreen Carvajal has written a short piece wondering how Third Culture Kids deal with the concept of “home”, given that they seem to have either none or else a multitude of them, depending on how you look at it. Despite being very charming, the text presents nothing really novel, as it emulates the same format as many others: once again, it lists the multitude of contexts one lives with and presents some anecdotes on how we rationalize the many paradoxes of living, both mentally and physically, in simultaneous worlds which, more often than not, do not overlap. What it does not offer, however, is an answer to the question.

Where is “home”, then?

The article kept coming back to me, always with a very slight seasoning of that bitter and nagging feeling, almost imperceptible, that something was wrong. I couldn’t say what it was; after all, I have never been able to answer the question myself and thought I had made peace with trying to, a long time ago. It only took me a few days to realize that I knew the answer all along. What’s more, I had probably known it from the very moment I stopped looking for it (and I have looked for a very long time) or, in a very zen twist of fate, because I had stopped looking for it. There was no single moment of revelation, but rather the sensation of a giant wave slowly washing over me; only when I was wholly engulfed, did I notice its magnitude.

I am not absolutely certain that I qualify as a Third Culture Kid (for one I’m not a kid, and also am at odds with the expression itself), and have no pretension of having had an epiphany that’s hidden from others like me. The question of “home”, however, is one that has claimed too much of my time and has been the cause of too much hesitation, puzzlement and yes, sadness in my life. Unlike others, only seldom did I see the romantic, quirky side of it, and when I did, it was mostly to use it as leverage. I am not the only one: let he who is with Third Culture cast the first stone.

My life is made (so far) of more than 40 addresses, 4 countries, 5 languages, 10 schools and all the other trivia of which those numbers are significant multipliers: I’ve never, ever lived in the same house for more than 5 years (where the average is 3), “the tube”, “subway” and “métro” still sound to me like foreign words describing the U-bahn, in my world there’s a place in Utah where the cowboys speak French (Hoss Cartwright and everyone at the Bonanza ranch), I’ve tried, without any luck, to explain why, in my mind, the angst of the Sezession is almost exactly the same as Fado or the Blues and I had once to spend thirty minutes at a restaurant in Miami trying to convince the Mexican waiter that I was not from Galicia (he was not convinced). There are literally hundreds of examples like this. They may sound funny, endearing or outrageous to you, but to me, they are like a giant hurdle, an announcement of the moment when I have to start explaining the same thing, one more time, over and over again.

One day, I chose to not subject myself to them anymore, by simply perfecting the proven method of discreetly maneuvering the conversation to places where those kinds of questions don’t exist. With time, I’ve become quite good at it.

Now I know that looking for an answer to the question of where “home” is for me, is fundamentally irrelevant. I know exactly where it is: it’s when you find yourself surrounded by people like you, where you can let your guard down and be all the “yous” that you are, at the same time, speaking that mezcla of a language that includes all the languages, where you can start a sentence as a real Viennese, continue it like an Englishman and finish it like a Frenchman. And I don’t mean the words themselves, but rather who you are at that exact, atomic moment. For me, speaking a language was always a consequence of being of that culture, not the cause of it, to the point of never having been able to answer the simple question: “what is your mother-tongue?”  (I still don’t know).

I am of no place and of all the places, I am of those moments when you’re finally like everyone else, despite being uniquely different. That’s where home is, and unlike many, I can carry it around with me.


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